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Hatton Tries To Get Back To Where He Once Belonged

Bernard Fernandez

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PacquiaoHatton Hogan 43The ever-so-appropriate words were written and sung by another famous British subject, Sir Paul McCartney, in the days when the Beatles were cranking out even more smash hits than those authored in the ring by the latter-day boxer who came to be known as “The Hitman” to similarly adoring throngs.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

For former two-division world champion Ricky Hatton, whose shrieking fan base reminded some of the pandemonium that was Beatlemania, the place where he once belonged must now seem long ago and far away. He was the pride of Manchester, England, non-soccer division, and as much of a hero there and throughout the United Kingdom as was McCartney and his three band mates. Was it only five years ago that Hatton’s popularity was such that he could seduce 25,000 of his countrymen to travel to Las Vegas for one of his fights, even if many of them couldn’t procure tickets inside the arena? Or just three years since his fun-loving, scampish halo was knocked askew in the wake of a crushing one-punch wipeout and revelations of lackadaisical training, binge drinking and forays into recreational drugs?

And was it less than a year ago that Hatton, his hero status and personal life increasingly in tatters, plunged into depression so deep he considered slitting his wrists and ending it all?

But Hatton, now 34, inactive for 42 months and edging ever closer to the comeback bout that many fallen pugilistic icons have risked in the hope of restoring whatever it is that they feel they’ve lost, insists that he can no longer leave things as they are. True champions – and a prime Ricky Hatton was certainly that – don’t quit on themselves, or on those they have disappointed and disillusioned. For those fighters seeking absolution inside the ropes, the immediate future might not turn out as glorious as was the receding past, but then opening one’s veins or totally succumbing to self-pity isn’t the answer, either.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

On Nov. 24, in MEN Arena in his hometown of Manchester, site of many of his more memorable successes, Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs) tries to turn back the clock to a much happier time when he takes on former WBA welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs), of Ukraine, in what no one can describe as a tuneup. Senchenko might not be on a level with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, ultra-elite opponents who greased the skids for Hatton’s precipitous fall from grace, but he is no stiff to be casually cuffed around for the purpose of making the “Hitman’s” return engagement just another feel-good exercise.

No, Hatton’s purpose in this case seems to be an attempt to quickly find out whether he has the goods to come all the way back, or to again scurry into the hole he had dug for himself these past few years. It is an ambitious quest, even noble if his intentions are as pure as he insists. But the consequences of failure must be daunting to someone whose belief that he can complete the journey has to be at least somewhat fragile at this point. The more Hatton stands to gain, the more he stands to lose.

Some wagers, though, have to be placed because there really isn’t an acceptable alternative. In the game of redemption, you’re all-in or you don’t play.

“Win or lose, I’ve already won,” Hatton says of where he is now in relation to where he was not so very long ago. “I want to finish my career the way it should have ended – not flat on my back on the canvas.

“I feel like I let everybody down. The nation. All my fans. It was a really horrible, dark place I was in. I just needed to prove that I could get fit again. I want people to look at me as a four-time world champion, in two weight categories, and as a down-to-earth man of the people, not as the joke that I had become.”

Funny thing about punches, and punch lines. It’s always better to be the person delivering them than to be the butt of snide remarks from those whose lips previously uttered nothing but praise. A fighter can go from certain victory to emphatic defeat in the time required for the other guy to deliver a devastating shot to the jaw, which is about as swiftly as it takes for someone who always has been the life of the party to become just another unwanted guest with questionable table manners.

All those Hatton devotees from the UK thought it endearingly hilarious when their man cracked wise after his fourth-round stoppage of the formidable Jose Luis Castillo in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center on June 23, 2007. Asked by a reporter what he planned to do next, Hatton, who never made a secret of his fondness for lifting a pint or two, smiled and said, “I’ll have a few battles tonight with Mr. Guinness.”

Hatton, a nonstop punching machine whose swarming, take-two-to-land-one style is reminiscent of the late Arturo Gatti, made the breakthrough from British phenomenon to global superstar when, as a sizable underdog, he forced the feared Russian, Kostya Tszyu, to quit on his stool after 11 rounds in MEN Arena before the typical sellout crowd of 22,000 on June 4, 2005, capturing the IBF junior welterweight championship in the process. That victory alone would have been enough for Hatton to become the first Briton to be voted Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, although he embellished his credentials for the BWAA award with a subsequent thrashing of Carlos Maussa 5½ months later in Yorkshire, England.

Thus began the extended U.S. phase of Hatton’s dizzying career ascent, with big crowds – enlarged by hordes of British revelers – coming out to see him beat Luis Collazzo in Boston and Juan Urango and Castillo on the Vegas Strip.

“We pride ourselves on being great sportsmen,” said Dennis Holson, the British partner of Art Pelullo, the Philadelphia-based promoter of Hatton’s bouts with Collazzo, Urango and Castillo. “But out-and-out winners? We don’t have that many. Our country is an absolute winner here. We should savor these moments because we’re not just making memories, we’re making history.”

But the good times took a downward turn in Hatton’s next trip to Vegas, where he was paired with the man widely considered to be the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Floyd Mayweather Jr. An estimated 25,000 Hatton supporters from the UK flooded the city to support their favorite fighter, and so what if only 3,900 tickets were made available to them initially? Some of Hatton’s people were willing to pay up to $10,000 for a ticket, and did, and those who never made it inside the MGM Grand Garden happily filled closed-circuit venues throughout town, screaming themselves hoarse singing “Rule, Brittania,” “God Save the Queen” and, most frequently, “Walking in a Hatton Wonderland” to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Unimpressed by all those Hatton crazies, a bemused Mayweather said, “The only reason Hatton is 43-0 is because he hasn’t fought anyone. He hasn’t fought 43 Floyd Mayweathers. If he had, he’d be 0-43.”

Mayweather’s take on what was to unfold proved spot-on; he dominated the action from the opening bell, wresting the WBA welterweight belt from Hatton on a 10th-round TKO, flooring the outclassed champion twice in that round with ripping left hooks.

Still the impish prankster, Hatton sized up his first professional defeat thusly: “What can I say? I was doing all right until I bleepin’ slipped.”

Hatton’s slippage was to continue, in other ways. After victories over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, an underprepared Hatton, by then losing too many of his behind-the-scenes battles with Mr. Guinness, was felled by a single blow in the second round from Manny Pacquiao on May 2, 2009, at the MGM Grand. He has not fought since, and his absence from the ring took on the cloak of notoriety when he was photographed snorting cocaine in a hotel.

Now a trimmer, cleaned-up Hatton tries to make amends for the detours he so readily if unwisely took. In his 14th appearance in MEN Arena, can he still fill every one of those 22,000 seats? Will the fighter on display be the same force of nature that battered Kostya Tszyu into submission? Or the one who was exposed as an overhyped fraud by Mayweather and Pacquiao?

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

Hatton says he wants to do show a more positive side of himself to his children, son Campbell and daughter Millie, who have too often seen the bloated, despondent drunk that their father had become. Maybe he never could have beaten Mayweather and Pacquiao, even at his best, but he did himself no favors by spending more time in the pub than in the gym. That was a surefire way to dissipate any hint of greatness that he once displayed, an aura he so desperately seeks to regain.

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Mayhem in Worcester

Ted Sares

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A number of bizarre events unfolded during a boxing show at the Palladium in Worcester, MA, on March 9, 2007. This was foreseeable. The main event was a freak fight that pit Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the “King of the Four Rounders,” against Joe Siciliano, a 49-year-old Leominster, MA, narcotics detective. Siciliano, who had a 4-3 record, came in at a grotesque 313 pounds, but “The Bean,” then 40 years old and sporting a 76-7 record, weighed a humungous 417. On paper it was a terrible mismatch, and a potentially dangerous mismatch at that.

The corpulent Siciliano (pictured) didn’t lack for guts. “The people want to see a fight, and I’m not going in there and dance around and make it boring,” he said. “People come to see Butterbean because he loves to brawl. Well, he’s going to get one. Whether the fight lasts 30 seconds or four rounds, it’s going to be action-packed. You’re not going to see any love taps. You’re going to see power punches. I’m not going to give up easy. I’m psyching myself up for this.”

“This is definitely a big step up for me,” said the 49-year-old, “but I feel real good. I’m fresh, and I’ve been training a lot. I’ve been given the chance to fight this guy, and I’m feeling very confident.”

We’re hoping for a four-round decision,” added Jimbo Isperduli, Siciliano’s trainer/manager and the fight’s promoter. Translation: If Joe lasts four rounds, it would be deemed a monster upset.

Earlier in the show, Butterbean’s son Brandon Esch (aka Babybean) got poleaxed by Matthew Eckerly. The 266-pound kid remained on the canvas unconscious for several scary minutes. It was Brandon’s professional debut and would be his last boxing fight. And the guy who beat him was no world beater. Eckerly was 1-3 coming in and would proceed to lose his next and final seven fights, all by KO.

After watching his son, Butterbean was subdued and likely very anxious.

babybean

Brandon Esch (Babybean)

The Fight

In the first round, Joe was knocked down and there was a good deal of running, hugging and holding. At one point, Joe spit out his mouthpiece ala Chico Corrales to buy some time and extend the fight. When the round ended, he raised his hands in some sort of celebration. He had done what Peter “Hurricane” McNeely and many others couldn’t do; he had survived the first round. Esch had crushed many of his opponents in the first stanza, ending the bout as soon as one of his power shots hit home.

Unfortunately for Joe, he had nothing left to hold off his stalking and grotesque opponent. Round Two was Bean Time and Joe’s chances had now become zero to none. The end was in sight. Bean mercifully resorted mostly to body shots so as not to do any needless damage to the terribly mismatched detective. After several knockdowns in which Joe seemed to bounce off the canvas, two towels were thrown in to stop the massacre. But Joe had pocketed $4,000 and gained some serious bragging rights.

Despite Butterbean’s cult following, throngs of Siciliano fans booed. Now there’s high camp and there’s cornball, but this was something else. Siciliano had a huge following in the Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner area and had personally sold 1,000 tickets for the fight.

Butterbean was winding down his career and this would be his last boxing win. His final record was 77-10-4. Joe finished at 5-4.

As he pursued other viable options, Butterbean’s  legacy as one of the greatest four-round boxers of all time remained intact.

Ted Sares enjoys researching and writing about boxing. He can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Remembering Oscar ‘Shotgun’ Albarado (1948-2021)

Arne K. Lang

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Former world junior middleweight champion Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado passed away on Feb. 17 at age 72 in a nursing home in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas. Albarado’s death didn’t go unnoticed in the town that he put on the sporting map, but news out of Uvalde appears to travel to the outside world by Pony Express. There’s been no notice of it in the boxing press; even the authoritative boxrec has yet to acknowledge his passing. This isn’t uncommon. A boxer has a high probability of dying in obscurity, even if he had a large fan base during his heyday.

The folks in Uvalde had a big shindig to honor Albarado after he won the title; a barbecue at the fairgrounds. “All Texas and especially the city of Uvalde share pride in your accomplishments,” read a proclamation from the Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe.

The date was June 20, 1974. Sixteen days earlier, Albarado had wrested the 154-pound title from Koichi Wajima in Tokyo. Down two points on two of the scorecards through the 14 completed rounds, Albarado took the bout out of the judges hands, knocking Wajima down three times and out in the final stanza.

It was a long road to Tokyo. An eight-year pro, Oscar had at least 55 pro fights under his belt when he was granted a crack at the title. As he was scaling the ladder with occasional missteps, he became a fan favorite at the Olympic Auditorium, the shrine of Mexican-American boxing in L.A. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Albarado’s parents were migrant farm workers. They spent a portion of each year picking sugar beets in Minnesota. The kids went along with them. Albarado was purportedly six years old when he first worked in the fields.

He was 17 years old when he had his first documented fight, a 4-rounder in San Antonio, but there are some reports that say he was fighting in Mexico when he was as young as 15.

Albarado became a local attraction in South Texas and then spread his wings, moving to Los Angeles where there was better sparring and boxers of Mexican extraction were a more highly-valued commodity. He was backed by LA fight functionary Harry Kabakoff, a wheeler-dealer who knew all the right people. A colorful character, Kabakoff, born Melville Himmelfarb (don’t ask) had struck it big with bantamweight Jesus “Little Poison” Pimentel, a boxer he discovered while living in Mexicali.

Billed as the Uvalde Shotgun and eventually as just Shotgun Albarado, Oscar had his first fight at the Olympic on Jan. 9, 1969, and four more fights there in the next three months. He lost the last of the five and with it his undefeated record to Hedgemon Lewis who out-pointed him in a 10-round fight. There was no shame in losing to Hedgemon, an Eddie Futch fighter who went on to become a world title-holder.

Albarado was back at the Olympic before the year was out. All told, he had 17 fights at the fabled South Grand Street arena, going 13-3-1. His other losses came at the hands of Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez (L UD 10) and Dino Del Cid.

Del Cid, dressed with a 29-8-2 record, was a Puerto Rican from the streets of New York or a Filipino, depending on which LA newspaper one chose to read. Apprised that Albarado was a slow starter, he came out slugging. A punch behind the ear knocked Albarado woozy and the ref stepped in and stopped it. It was all over in 81 seconds.

Oscar demanded a rematch and was accommodated. Six weeks later, he avenged the setback in grand style, decking Del Cid three times in the opening stanza and knocking him down for the count in the following round with his “shotgun,” his signature left hook.

As the house fighter, Albarado got the benefit of the doubt when he fought Thurman Durden in January of 1973. The decision that went his way struck many as a bit of a gift. But the same thing had happened to him in an earlier fight when he opposed fast-rising welterweight contender Armando Muniz.

As popular as Alvarado was at the Olympic, his pull paled beside that of young Muniz. Born in Mexico but a resident of Los Angeles from the age of six, Muniz attended UCLA on a wrestling scholarship before finishing his studies at a commuter school and had represented the United States in the 1968 Olympics while serving in the Army.

Muniz vs. Alvarado was a doozy. We know that without seeing the fight as we have the empirical evidence in the form of the description of the scene at the final bell; appreciative fans showered the ring with coins. The verdict, a draw, met with the approval of the folks in the cheap seats, but ringside reporters were of the opinion that “Shotgun” was wronged. The LA Times correspondent had it 7-2-1 for the Texan.

Oscar had two more fights after avenging his loss to Del Cid before heading off to Tokyo to meet the heavily-favored Wajima who was making the seventh defense of his 154-pound title. Two more trips to Tokyo would follow in quick succession.

Albarado made the first defense of his newly-acquired belt against Ryu Sorimachi. He stopped him in the seventh round, putting him down three times before the match was halted. Three-and-a-half months later, he gave the belt back to Wajima, losing a close but unanimous decision in their rematch.

Oscar quit the sport at this juncture, returning to Uvalde. He was in good shape financially. He had used his earnings from his Olympic Auditorium fights to open a gas station. With the Tokyo money, he expanded his holdings by purchasing a laundromat.

This would be a nice place to wrap up this story. Former Austin American-Statesman sportswriter Jack Cowan, a Uvalde native, recalled that when Oscar opened his service station, he gave his new customers an autographed photo of himself in a boxing pose inscribed with the words “Oscar Albarado: The Next World Champion.” He would make that dream become a reality, defying the odds, while breaking the cycle of poverty in his family. Boxing was the steppingstone to a better life for him and his children.

But ending the story right here would be disingenuous. This is boxing, after all, and when the life story of a prominent boxer comes fully into a focus, a feel-good story usually takes a wrong turn.

Oscar got the itch to fight again. Sixty-seven months after walking away from boxing, he resumed his career with predictable results. He was only 34 when he returned to the ring, but he was a shell of his former self, an old 34.

Albarado was knocked out in five of his last seven fights before leaving the sport for good with a record of 57-13-1 (43 KOs). He made his final appearance in Denmark, the adopted home of double-tough Ayub Kalule who whacked him out in the second round.

Albarado’s obituary in the Uvalde paper was uncharacteristically blunt. “He suffered from pugilistic dementia,” it said, “caused by repeated concussive and sub-concussive blows.”

There was no sugar-coating there, no Parkinson’s to obfuscate the truth.

If he had known the fate that awaited him, would he have still chosen the life of a prizefighter? That’s not for us to say, but author Tris Dixon, while researching his new book, interviewed a bunch of neurologically damaged fighters and almost to a man they said they would do it all over again.

Albarado had four children, three sons and a daughter. When he was elected to the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, he was too decrepit to travel, but all four of his children — Oscar Jr, Emmanuel, Jacob, and Angela — made the trip to North Hollywood to accept the award on his behalf.

The kids were proud of their old man, a feeling that did not dissipate as he became incapacitated. If boxing was helpful in tightening the bond, then it’s a fair guess the Uvalde Shotgun had no regrets.

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Brandon Figueroa KOs Nery and Danny Roman Wins Too

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Brandon Figueroa took the air out of Mexico’s Luis Nery to win by knockout and unify the WBA and WBC super bantamweight titles on Saturday. It was a belly buster that did the job.

Texan Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs) set out to prove that Tijuana’s two-division world champion Nery (31-1, 24 KOs) could not endure a toe-to-toe battle with the bigger guys and he proved it before several thousand fans at the Dignity Health Sports Park.

It was a back-and-forth battle that saw Nery attack the body and head while Figueroa focused on winging big blows from a distance and in close. Many of the rounds were extremely close to score.

When Nery was able to battle from a distance and dive inside, he seemed the much more athletic between the two champions. But Figueroa just seemed stronger and unfazed by any of the Mexican fighter’s blows.

Though Figueroa absorbed a lot of punishment, he never seemed in trouble. When Nery connected with a several combinations in the fifth round by landing five-punch and three-punch combinations, it looked like he was taking control.

He did not.

Figueroa opened the sixth round with two left hook blasts that reminded Nery that the taller Texan had a punch. When Nery tried to rally with his own blasts, Figueroa slipped under back-to-back left hooks. It seemed to change the tide.

“I knew he was getting tired,” said Figueroa. “He was trying to box me.”

In the seventh round Figueroa was able to connect with a left hook and followed up with a lead right. Nery countered with a three-punch combination that was met with Figueroa countering with a three-punch combination to the head and body. Then both fighters exchanged inside and Figueroa connected with a right to the chest and a left uppercut to the solar plexus and down went Nery.

Nery could not beat referee Tom Taylor’s count and was counted out at 2:18 of the seventh round.

Figueroa is now the WBC and WBA super bantamweight unified champion.

“It feels amazing,” said Figueroa. “I know everyone doubted me.”

Roman Wins Super Bantam Eliminator

Los Angeles-based Danny Roman (29-3-1, 10 KOs) battered Mexico’s Ricardo Espinoza (25-4, 21 KOs) to win convincingly by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a super bantamweight fight.

After a slow start Roman began to out-maneuver the heavy-punching Espinoza and found openings for left uppercuts. Boy did he find openings.

“I concentrated on finding my distance,” said Roman.

Roman snapped Espinoza’s head back so many times it seemed that the Mexican fighter would not be able to last the full 10 rounds. But like most Mexican fighters he would not quit.

Espinoza tried every move in his catalogue but nothing worked against the superb technique used by Roman, who formerly held the IBF and WBA super bantamweight world titles. It was a perfect example of technical prowess defeating raw power.

The uppercut was the chosen weapon of choice and Roman exhibited how to throw it from various positions and angles. It landed perfectly every time as if targeted by a laser. Espinoza never could avoid the uppercut.

During the last three rounds Espinoza’s face was bloody and battered while Roman looked as if he were merely sparring. The end seemed near but the fighter from Tijuana battled until the final bell.

“I thought he was going to go down,” said Roman. “But he had a big heart.”

All three judges scored it for Roman at 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

“It’s a step closer to getting back my titles,” said Roman who lost the titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev a year ago by split decision. “I’m here to fight the best.”

Martinez Beats Burgos

Sacramento’s Xavier Martinez (16-0, 11 KOs) discovered that Tijuana’s Juan Carlos Burgos (34-5-2, 21 KOs) still has plenty of fight remaining and showed it with a gutsy 10 rounds of back-and-forth battering. Still, Martinez won by unanimous decision though every round was competitive.

Boy was it competitive.

Martinez, 23, had a 10-year advantage in youth but was unable to convince Burgos. Every round saw savage combinations connect by each fighter, but the judges all felt that the Sacramento fighter was superior. All three scored it 99-91 for Martinez. The crowd booed the decision.

“I was landing the cleaner shots,” said Martinez. “He’s a tough competitor.”

Other Results

A super lightweight match saw Jose Valenzuela (8-0) knock out Nelson Hampton (7-4) in the first round.

Gabriela Fundora (1-0) won her pro debut by unanimous decision over Jazmin Valverde (2-2) in a four round flyweight match. Fundora is the sister of super welterweight contender Sebastian Fundora.

A lightweight bout was won by Justin Cardona (5-0) by first round knockout of James De Herrera (4-7).

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